Thompson’s Garden
Unremarkable Days

Ageist Business Media

category_bug_ageism.gif In August, Forbes magazine published "Age Vs. Youth", purporting to advise on how older and younger workers can get along in the workplace. The story could not be more demeaning in its assumptions about older workers if the writer had intended it to be so. Every one of them – there are many – is either wrong or perpetuates ageist stereotypes.

Let’s deconstruct a few.

1. “Older workers may feel threatened by their younger...counterparts who have up-to-the-minute skills.”
Who says the skills of older workers aren’t current? That sweeping generalization is unacceptable. There is no reason a 25-year old has any better skills than a 50- or 60-year-old and a good case can be made that older workers, having reason to be aware of age discrimination that younger folks haven’t faced yet, have made more effort to be up to date. This is a tired, false, old prejudice that needs to be buried.

2. “Workers in their 50s are often turned down for jobs because they’re too expensive – not because they’re too old.”
That is true in many cases, but is another misconception. Too expensive by what measure? Every study shows that older workers know more, take fewer sick days, are more reliable, punctual and make fewer mistakes than younger workers. There are also studies that show them to be more creative. They deserve higher pay for their greater knowledge and will reward the company by increasing revenue with their better work habits and fewer mistakes.

3. “Older workers who want to be treated well should ask about promotions and where their career is going. This tells the boss, ‘I’m committed and I plan to stay here.’”
The implication in this statement is factually incorrect and could be written only by someone who hasn’t taken his own advice to stay up to date - in this case, with current research. It is younger workers, not older ones, who hop from job to job. Older workers who have families, mortgages and kids to put through college, or are paying off those debts and saving for retirement (which is likely to be forced because of age) are far more stable.

4. “Older workers should be willing to break the stereotype and take on new challenges in new places…Think of new applications for your proven skills.”
This one is embarrassing. It is not older people who create stereotypes of themselves; it is younger ones. Older workers have been taking on new challenges all their lives and are expert now at adjusting and adapting to new situations in a workplace that changes these days with the speed of light.

Appended to this story is a list of seven tips for avoiding clashes between young and old at work. In an almost perfect example of unintended irony, the first one is: Don’t Make Assumptions.

This piece is ageist to its core, perpetuating the stereotypes it pretends to oppose. And if you don't think that's true, reread the assumptions above applying the TGB Bias Test: replace references to older workers with "African-Americans" and see if you think this story, in that instance, could have gotten past the editor's desk.

Comments

I was almost convinced by your words when I read "...replace references to older workers with 'African-Americans'..." That seals it for me! The writer would have been on the street, trying to find another job paying enough to help pay off his/her student loan.

One of the primary reasons seasoned employees get replaced by younger pups, at least with the small-medium businesses I deal with, is cost. Axe a $40K 15-year employee and replace with a $25K eager beaver. They are always smart enough to rewrite job descriptions and change titles just to make it look OK on the surface. And get rid of people just before they vest or just before they are eligible for early retirement benefits.

Winston is right, but it happens with huge companies too. My husband saw many salesmen forced to quit his former company after they were subjected to increasing quotas and shrinking terrritories, the whole purpose of which was to make them so dissatisfied that they would quit, making way for the company to hire 2 men at less than what the older ones were pulling down.

I agree with what you say Ronni, and thanks for the support. I've just come from a large corporation that is letting people go by the droves..a lot of older employees to be replaced by younger, smaller-salaried people. In today's market, older employees..AND even younger employees are totally expendable without much thought. It's become all too commonplace, and very sad.

This is also true of the educational field, particularly where the Teachers Association is not strong and contracts with the district are weak. I have personally met teachers who taught at one grade level most of their 35 year career suddenly being assigned a different grade level and one that would be extremely difficult for them to handle. (For example a kindergarten teacher being forced into teaching 6th grade which was a level totally out of her expertise since her skills had been honed to teach five year olds) These changes were made in an attempt to get these older yet, fantastic teachers to retire so that the District could hire new inexpensive teachers.

In education, the older teachers that I knew were tremendous resources for the new young teachers coming into our schools. Personally, if I had to think of two things that I loved...one of course, would be teaching children. A close second would be mentoring young people in my profession.

This article "Age vs Youth" is the biggest crock of ------, (Sorry, I have spent too many years discouraging swearing among the young to feel comfortable filling in that blank, but you know what I mean.)

Agree 100%. I am a retired teacher & work for the university now as a Supervisor and mentor of student teachers. It's a great job.

I can relate to the other teacher in that some younger teachers want veterans to exit asap. Why is that? What does age have to do with teaching excellence? Too many people want 55-plus off the dance floor. Why? There should be room for everyone.

Terrific deconstruction, Ronni. The surprising research you cited (surprised me, anyway) is that older workers take fewer sick days. That one challenges even my own assumptions about aging.The rest of it I would have guessed, although the Forbes writer is clearly clueless. I hope you sent them a letter to the ed. Susan

Ugh, what a total crock. There's one very interesting line you didn't quote, that I think said it all for me:

and sometimes lawsuits alleging "ageism."

I couldn't bring myself to read the whole article, but the prejudice shines through strongly from very early on.

Yes..I agree the articles sounds like it was written by a 20 something year old writer who did NOT do his research. But he probably replaced a seasoned (over 50-year old) reporter who would have confirmed his facts!

Hey, I like your blog, do you want to exchange blog links. I'm at www.billsbitterpills.blogspot.com.

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